In The Alzheimer’s Storm

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.     ~  Willa Cather

I am quite often asked how my mother is doing.  While I am grateful for the care and concern for my mom, the truth is, mom lives in a bubble or as I like to think of it — the eye of the storm.  In the eye of the storm, things are calm and quiet, peaceful even with the lowest pressure of the storm residing in the center.  But as you go out from the center, the pressure rises, the winds pick up and things can start spinning out of control.

My family is in the Alzheimer’s Storm.

Everything has shifted — duties, roles, plans — all of it, and we are still trying to find our new footing, or equilibrium if you will.

In a LIVESTRONG article titled Effects of Alzheimer’s Disease on the Family, there are five main areas of impact on the family:

  1. Legal
  2. Financial
  3. Caregiver Stress
  4. Family Conflict
  5. Emotional Adjustment

After a family has recovered from the shock of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the next thing to do is take stock, and get legal and financial affairs in order.  The first thing my parents did, while mom still had mental capacity, was hire an attorney.  My parents updated their wills, prepared Advanced Health Care Directives (Living Wills), and designated a Power of Attorney.  This was all done in 2008 when my mom still (barely) knew what she was signing.  If we had waited any longer, it would have been too late for mom to legally sign these documents due to her advanced Alzheimer’s and subsequent lack of mental capacity.

Having the Power of Attorney in place first is crucial to helping parents with their financial accounts.

Mom was the bookkeeper in the family, and when Alzheimer’s moved in, mom’s organized running of the household finances moved out. I would imagine every Alzheimer’s sufferer has their “big tell” — that moment when you know once and for all that Alzheimer’s is real and here to stay.  Seeing mom’s checkbook was this moment for me. Like a skilled knitter uncharacteristically dropping stitches, mom was dropping payments, numbers, and even the ability to accurately write out checks and record them.  Mom’s proud history of balancing the checkbook to the penny, now consisted of a rubber band holding three checkbooks together, with a few checks missing from each and with a register that was difficult to read and didn’t make sense.

I arrived to this scene a little late.  Mom had made some double payments on utilities, but fortunately, no real problems had occurred.  My mom was hanging on by her fingernails, with the second big tell being my fastidious mom’s willingness (and relief!) to hand it all over to me.

Since finances are not my strength, it took me some time, an exhaustive amount of correspondence, and many notarized signatures to get complete control over my parents financial house.  But I’m happy to say the task is complete, the elephant has been eaten and it’s triumphantly taking up an entire file drawer in my house — with labels!

You’re wondering about my father?  He didn’t handle any of the finances throughout their marriage, and at seventy-six, he wasn’t interested in starting now if he didn’t have to.

Don’t wait for the Alzheimer’s storm to bring down the house — don’t be afraid to talk with each other about money before things get messy.  Consider getting elderly parents started on electronic banking if they’re not already, this will be helpful to you both down the road and build their confidence in you, which will go far as more responsibilities fall your way.

Here’s an article from FindLaw titled, “Planning For Incapacity” for more information on the importance of getting things done sooner than later.  A good article on “Getting Your Affairs in Order” from the NIH & National Institute on Aging.  And earlier this week, Money Talks News wrote about the “5 Considerations for Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Look for #3 Caregiver Stress in a later post.

~  Joanne